An ideation session is most rewarding when the facilitator skilfully encourages the participants and monitors the process. Gijs van Wulfen together with FORTH facilitators have compiled a list of 25 tips to help facilitate successful ideation meetings. Do you have more?

The fuzzy front end of innovation confronts you with a lot of questions. In my new book ‘Creating innovative Products and Services’ I try to solve them with the FORTH innovation method.


Ideating new products and services go hand in hand with series of brainstorming sessions and workshops. In order to facilitate all these meetings effectively, it demands from the facilitator three aspects simultaneously:

1.  application of creative think techniques in the most effective way;

2.  monitoring all participants and involving them in the process, and

3.  monitoring the group in the light of steering the innovation assignment in the best possible and feasible direction.

This demands a great amount of skill from the facilitator, especially at those meetings where a large group is present. Beware of the many pitfalls as happened to me. Together with the FORTH facilitators, who I trained last year, we have compiled a list of 25 personal tips that will help you to facilitate brainstorms at the start of innovation successfully.

25 Personal tips to be a successful innovation session facilitator

  1. Choose the way of working which suits you best.
  2. Know yourself well, and how you come across to others, so that you can act upon that. Always stay genuine and be yourself.
  3. Be open to ideas or suggestions from the group to adapt the process. Do not always try and keep to the programme you have set.
  4. Give the opposite energy to the group. If the group is too busy/active: be calm.  If the group is too calm, be more active and energetic.
  5. Time box. Make sure everybody knows what the time limits for different assignments are. Always have a clock available, whereby you and the participants can see how much time is left.
  6. Always explain what you are going to do and why. People come with different expectations and information and want to know what is going to happen. Explain what brainstorming techniques are and give examples of what is expected at the end.
  7. Give everyone the same colour post-its and pen so that it does not stand out whose idea it is and it will not influence the choices.
  8. Always write legibly. This is a rule which is often broken!
  9. First check with the project leader, who knows the participants better than you, before dividing them into teams.
  10. Choose appropriate music to create the best atmosphere (lively, energetic, calm, relaxing).
  11. Make sure it is enjoyable. Fun promotes good results.
  12. Take control of the process and not of each individual, as everyone needs some space. Expect the unexpected, as it doesn’t always go the way you’ve planned it.
  13. During disagreements in the group, follow your own instinct, opinion and feeling. Remind them of the agreement to be respectful towards one another.
  14. Give credit were appropriate, stimulate, motivate and enthuse the group publicly.
  15. Apply a time limit, especially when someone takes their time, by indicating: you have one minute left, give us the three most important points. If necessary use a timer.
  16. Let the group do the work. For example, ask them for their help by letting them count the number of stickers on the concept evaluation board. In this way everybody stays involved and busy.
  17. Keep the pace going otherwise it becomes too long-winded and boring. Always be one step ahead and make sure that you apply the next technique immediately.
  18. Ask the group for help if you are not sure how to carry on. This is powerful and effective because even the facilitator does not know everything.
  19. Always treat everyone with respect but be sure to point out things of which you do not approve.
  20. Pay attention to the body language of the participants.
  21. Constantly check what the groups are working on so that, if necessary, you can guide them.
  22. Allow people to choose which innovation opportunity, idea or concept board they want to work on. If you allow them to do this then they can choose not only that which they have a passion for but also what they have knowledge of which will lead to good results.
  23. Be present, but not too obvious. Trust in the quality of the group and allow them to work independently. Intervene only when it is really necessary.
  24. Give the project leader and the client a ‘wild card’ during the selection process as in this way you also make the division of roles clear.
  25. Preparation, preparation, preparation.

I wish you lot’s of success in facilitating ideation sessions to generate innovative products, services and business models. Do you like more tips, formats and checklists? You can download thirteen free checklists of the FORTH innovation method here. Do you have other personal tips for innovation session facilitators? Please add them!


About the author:

Gijs van Wulfen (The Netherlands, 1960) is the founder of the FORTH innovation method. FORTH is an effective and structured method for ideating innovative products and services. The method is published in his inspiring and practical book Creating Innovative Products and Services’ (Gower, 2011).

He helps organisations to kick start innovation by facilitating the FORTH innovation method and advising companies on their innovation strategy, process and organisation. His clients are international companies in industry and services, as well as non-profit organisations in government and health. Gijs also trains facilitators in his method. His dream is to make FORTH the most used method for the front end of innovation around the world.

Gijs is a both presenter and chairman at several (international) innovation conferences, like the ISPIM Conferences and the European Conference on Creativity and Innovation. He is also founder of the yearly Dutch Innovation Conference on creating new products: ‘Nieuwe Producten Bedenken’.